I grew up in Alabama where you could tell the age of a home by counting the interior waterlines from previous floods. I’m now in modern day Scottsdale, Arizona where we carbon date the homes with a slightly similar interior design inventory equation. It’s like a Match Game sequence using the interior décor to determine “How Old is it?…” For instance:
1. Wrought iron lighting fixtures, Roman columns, stacked stone – Turn of the Century Tuscan (late 90s)
2. Rose granite counters, dark knotty Alder wood cabinets, stainless steel appliances – Pre-Crash Classical (early ‘00’s)
3. White counters, gray walls, gray plank tile flooring and gray cabinetry – Post-Crash Contemporary ( The last decade)
Every era’s interior design trend is the mood ring of its age. Ten years ago the color gray, otherwise known as grey, drifted onto the walls and halls of interior design like a smoke scented fog drifting out of the smoldering ash pile of the 2008 housing crash. Gray is neither black nor white, the perfect metaphor for a housing market nobody trusted any longer. There’s a mood altering psychology to color. Yellow is happy. Blue is calming. Red means call a doctor. There are dozens of ways to interpret the psychology of colors, but “not-at-all” is my personal favorite.
Gray is the offspring of two non-colors, black and white, which gives gray the personality of a tax accountant on a Novocain drip. “It’s girls night out!” has never once led to “I’ll wear the Gray dress!”. In personal fashion sense Gray is the go-to until you actually have some place to go-to. Gray is the George Kennedy of the color wheel, capable of playing multiple supporting roles, but dicey as the lead. However, if you had to pick one color on the wheel to pin the trend on this current decade, Gray walks away with it, stylishly of course.
Think of the shady Black and White marriage that creates Gray. White, which brings a sense of openness and honesty, is also equated with peace, healing, and tranquility. This is why wedding dresses are white. Meanwhile black means death, hence the groom’s attire. The ink is black, the page is white, together we all sing Three Dog Night. Gray is the partnering of extremes, the ultimate middle ground, the execution of non-execution, the bad guys and the good guys conspiring for a peaceful co-existence in the bland unknown. When we don’t know how to define something, what do we call that something? A Gray Area.
Gray it again Sam
Interior Design of this decade has been a product of its time, largely defined as a non-definable monochromatic gray area. The post-crash economy, and its life partner the American psyche, were 50 shades of confused. They’d have called this design trend “apathy” if anyone cared enough to name it. What began as a gray wall treatment soon spilled onto the flooring, then crept up the cabinetry. Before anyone could scream “You thank my battleship!”, we were surrounded by more gray areas than a cruise ship cosmetologist. Taken into retrospective context this universal gear shift into neutral makes perfect sense, after all we’d just exited the Economic-Collapse-Tilt-a-Wheel ride so the hazy shade of winter paired well with our Walking Dead expressions.
They give us those nice non-colors
They give us the grays of bummers
Makes you think all the world’s a foggy day
Surely you’ve noticed the concrete jungle motif lurking inside many of today’s “Designer” homes. Gray came. Gray conquered. Gray moved in like a couch conquering Brother-in-Law and gray’s not even looking for a new job anymore. In recent years the people at Pantone and Crayola have valiantly tried to nudge the design industry back onto the rainbow bridge to Technicolor town, but each attempt seems like a Hail Mary pass. Marsala! Tangerine! Emerald! Orchid! HUT!HUT!
A handoff would be much simpler.
I’m no style expert. When it comes to colors I have to ask my wife which brown socks best match the black suit. But as an outsider looking in, the notion that consumers are going to leap out of their toneless tombs for a Partridge Family bus ride to Easter egg island is the blind leading the color blind. Monochromania is an addiction. Recognizing your marketplace has this addiction is half the battle for designers and retailers alike. You have to help the addict dance the 12 step exit route one shade at a time. You’re either working on recovery or working on a relapse, so tread carefully. Today’s consumer is like Dorothy stepping out of her black and white flying house into Munchkinland’s technicolor fever dream.
Some wear under the rainbow
Adding alternative materials to a Grayspace can add feeling. Metals and woods have proven to be monochrome methadone. All that glitters has a high refractive index, thus chrome, brass, and gold metals have managed to find a home on the graynge, mostly because they whispered their arrival. Woods migrated into the fold as well, using understated stains as camouflage to quietly sneak in under the graydar. This is progress, and it’s worth noting that these elements bring texture as a housewarming gift. Leathers, another natural, non-boisterous, texture laden material, has similar graypabilities. Each of these elements helps gray develop a personality beyond ‘comatose librarian’, however none of these materials can be found on any rainbows.
Gray + Texture = Better
But it’s still…
Meet the Flint tones!
They’re the modern Stone shade family
From the mood of shellshock
They’re a shade right of misery
Texture Feels Like an Improvement
However “color” remains a pigment of the imagination. Piling wood on metal on glass on gray does little to remove the layers of pavement burying the yellow brick road to vivid town. The question remains; When will colors, actual emotional baggage toned colors, tip the doorman enough to gain re-entry into Graytown? Textures have a rough time posing as creativity’s crescendo. The fact that so many interior designs of today now utilize texture as a tint is exciting, but it doesn’t feel complete to rely on feel good materials alone. Color me crazy, but I miss color. BOLD LOUD COLOR. As an outsider looking in, today’s interior design is a fog bank. So how does color stage a comeback?
Let’s ask DENIM. Denim managed to skirt the velvet ropes to Graytown by walking backwards through the theater exits. Denim photobombed its way back into interior design and it’s unclear if anybody’s even noticed. Turn on HGTV and the twins are wearing denim genes. Open Architectural Digest and you’ll find denim painted on the actress humble bragging her humongous home. One peek inside Magnolia Journal and there’s more denim than The Gap! God bless denim and the butts it rode in on. Denim may be the stealthiest color on the wheel. Somehow the same material used to make Mom jeans, overalls, and Chuck Norris has infiltrated modern day design trends. Call it indigo. Call it azure. Call it navy. Ahem…that’s denim.
As the great philosopher Arthur Fonzerelli once said, “Cool never goes out of style”. Thus if we ever plan to press pedal to metal and exit Graytown, perhaps the denim road map is worth following. Denim’s strength is that it has no weakness. Denim was invented in 1500’s Genoa, Italy after their navy asked for seaman resistant pants. The word “jeans” comes from “Gènes” which is French for Genoa. 300 years later Levi Strauss chose the inexpensive material to make durable clothing for the prospectors, panners, and miners of the California Gold Rush. Denim has been American as apple pie and dishonest politicians ever since, despite numerous attempts by the 1980’s to destroy denim’s reputation.
Denim is an American classic, the official fabric of our social fabric. So let’s start there. Perhaps additional shades from the color tree can piggyback off denim’s success. What other colors equate to “American Classic”? Black and white!…wait, that brings us back to gray. So why not brick? Or forest green? Think on this. America, America, may God thy gold refine….Gold! Yes! And spacious skies, amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties, pink hearts, yellow moons, orange stars, green clovers…too Irish?
Do you know what all of those colors have in common?
They pair well with gray!
We Dream in Color
Don’t worry about the people you’ll offend, worry about those you will inspire. Designers walk the human condition high wire of our diametrically opposed need to be different while also fitting in. Whether designers are trend chasers or trend setters is a matter of credit or blame. As an outsider looking in, the monochromatic Grayscapes I keep encountering in the real world paint a picture of “Safe Spaces”. Monochrome is easy. I don’t think I’m alone when asking you creative types where on earth the creativity of earth’s colors has fled to in design? I’m not against the gray lifestyle. I’m not anti-gray. I have plenty of friends in the gray community. Gray on gray on wood on gray is pleasing to me. It’s cool. It’s trendy. But it’s also EVERYWHERE. It’s the interior of my truck.
Color is the smile of nature, it’s the shade of our souls, a splash of color is an emotion left for someone else to experience. The proliferation of interior grayscaping has created an opportunity for those brave designer/retailer souls willing to ride the rainbow. Gray can be cool, but Gray with an accent is way cooler. Four words: Stay Thirsty My Friends. Dos Equis had one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time by adding a colorful accent to gray. When “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign launched in 2006, it was a major risk, casting a gray fellow as company spokesperson. But he brought color with him. It was dynamic.
There was a time when interior design reflected the same risk averse nature.
A home should be comfortable and a home should be safe. Gray is safe. Gray is comfortable. I’m not suggesting the gray lifestyle be shunned. Not at all. I’m merely suggesting we dress it up. Gray seems kind of, you know, lonely. Give it some friends! What’s the point of a design if it doesn’t illicit emotion? An interior space has the power to communicate a story, a vibe, a sense of stimulus. Not to rain on the gray parade, but “Vibrancy” deserves a spot on the stage.
A home should be comfortable and a home should be safe. It should also be filled with joy and love and dreams and spirit and inspiration and every other adjective the decor signs on the wall strive to convey. This is achieved with color.
You just might enjoy it.